Sister Bay/ Liberty Grove Land Dispute Settled

A contentious land dispute between the Village of Sister Bay and Town of Liberty Grove appears settled.

“We cleared it up last week,” said Liberty Grove Town Chairman Bill Casey.

The dispute stemmed from the relocation of the rink in 2003, when the village moved its recreational facilities from their former location on Park Lane to the present location on Autumn Court to make way for the new fire station. To do so, the village purchased land adjacent to the Joint Sanitary District it operates with Liberty Grove.

Some of the new recreation facilities, including the rink, were built on Joint Sanitary District land, which had been set aside for utility expansion, without consulting Liberty Grove.

Liberty Grove was under the impression they owned the land with the village and were due compensation. After two years of arguments, stalls, and digging through stacks of paperwork, Casey said it’s clear the land belonged to Sister Bay all along.

“The village bought the land ten years before the intergovernmental agreement was created,” he said.

Relations between the two municipalities had soured considerably as the disagreement dragged on, and groups seeking to build facilities at the Sports Complex grew increasingly frustrated. Efforts to enhance the Teresa K Hilander (TKH) Ice Rink and build a skatepark at the complex were both stalled because they lacked clear title to the land they sought to build on. Prospective donors were reluctant to commit to the projects without a settlement.

Rob Bussler chairs the TKH Committee and is pleased to have the dispute settled, but said fundraising for improvements will likely have to wait. In the meantime, improvements will come one small step at a time as they fit them into a tight operating budget.

“The village gives us $5,000 each year and we’re happy to get that,” he said, adding that Sister Bay also contributes the land and some maintenance help. “I think they’re being as generous as they can for a league that only lasts a couple months a year.”

Though the problem is now solved, it may be hard to rekindle the enthusiasm of the volunteers who once stepped up to lead fundraising efforts.

Quinn Brennan of Sister Bay was an early participant in the effort to build a skatepark in Sister Bay at the Sports Complex, but like many, his energy waned as the land dispute dragged on.

“The sad part is the coffee got cold,” Brennan said. “People found another direction to go with their philanthropic efforts. The two-year hold pretty much blew it up. You’d almost have to start from scratch now.”

Brennan said the original group was pretty confident they could get commitments of about $50,000 to get fundraising rolling. Two Door County organizations expressed serious interest in giving $20,000 matching grants and others were simply waiting on a detailed plan. But without clear title to the land, organizers were hesitant to move forward.

Casey said he hopes the resolution is a step toward a better working relationship between the municipalities.

“We are working very hard to get back to the point we were at,” he said. “It’s coming.”

It remains to be seen if the energy of those who once wanted to work on enhancing the complex will return to the level where it once was.